Phoebe Tan’s awesome talents and work ethic have enabled her to establish a rewarding career in communications and developing international strategy. She has also built enduring work relationships on trust and transparency which have paid off for her since becoming a mum.
Headhunted during parental leave, Phoebe was offered flexibility and a new role. Here, she explains how working flexibly helps her better integrate work and home life.
Can you tell us about your career journey so far?
I graduated from university when I was 18 and started working in the business events industry in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. When I was 20, I moved to Melbourne to continue working and to undertake a post-graduate diploma in communications part-time. My career background is in marketing, communications and business development, and I’m now working within the mining sector, looking after my organisation’s international strategy. Melbourne is now home to me, my husband and my two boys (aged two years and seven months).
You went back to work full-time when your baby was five months old. How did you find the transition?
I had a very supportive manager who allowed me to work from home at times and who was incredibly understanding of my family life. More importantly, he invested in my career by expanding the team reporting to me and by offering me professional development opportunities. The juggle was challenging at times but the trust of my manager, the flexibility of the organisation and, of course, the help I had from my family made all the difference.
There was quite a lot of change at your workplace while you were on leave with your second baby. How did you find this experience? And how was it different to your first time on parental leave?
When I took parental leave the second time, the organisation was going through a leadership transition. Changes were made to my reporting line—both the person I reported to and the people reporting to me—but unfortunately I wasn’t informed.
When I was on leave the first time, simple things like invitations to office social functions made a big difference to assure me that I was still a part of the team and that my organisation was looking forward to my return to work. Communication with an employee on parental leave is key to reinforcing their value to the organisation.
You ended up being headhunted while on parental leave. How did this come about? And why is flexibility so important as a working parent?
I have the privilege of having a great working relationship with one of my former CEOs who went on to take another CEO role in a different organisation. He contacted me while I was on parental leave and asked if I would consider joining him in a newly-created position. As part of the offer, he gave complete flexibility—I had the option to choose how many and which days I wanted to work.
I jumped at the opportunity and started the new position, initially working two days a week before slowly moving to three days, which is now the perfect situation for me and my family.
The option to work flexibly makes it easier for me to integrate everything in my life—I don’t feel like I necessarily have to choose between family and work-life and I can truly have the best of both worlds!
Can you tell us about how becoming a mother has changed your perspective on life?
When I had my first child, I think subconsciously I saw it as a ‘tick in the box of life’ and I didn’t fully anticipate the immense changes that motherhood brings—both physically and emotionally. I struggled with finding relevance while sitting at home with a baby who would not let me put him down for the first few months! And then I struggled with feeling like I needed to prove myself in my job as a working mother (despite having an incredibly supportive manager and workplace). I wanted my mantra to be ‘she has and does it all’, but this was becoming unrealistic as I felt I was losing balance, prioritising the wrong things and constantly comparing myself to others.
With the arrival of my second son, I realised I had to re-evaluate who I really wanted to be and the legacy I want to leave for my children. So I stopped pursuing a goal to ‘have and do it all’. I learned to accept and appreciate help, and I intentionally slowed down and reminded myself to be more present in every moment (particularly at home) and to enjoy the wonder that my kids bring to each day.
What practical advice do you have for other women who are preparing to go on parental leave?
- Enjoy every moment of the journeycit truly, truly goes so quickly.
- Your story and your journey are uniquely yours—don’t ever feel the need to compare.
- A point of view (particularly around parenting) is like a bum-hole—everyone has one and it’s OK for us not to see theirs!
Your mantra is ‘it truly takes a village’. How do you manage the juggle in a practical sense?
I always say ‘it truly takes a village’ because I wouldn’t be able to do what I do in life without the trust of my bosses, the support of my husband and the incredible availability of my parents and in-laws. Life at home can get pretty hectic with two sons under the age of three, but my husband is absolutely fantastic as a very hands-on dad.
Some of the practical ways I manage the juggle are to be much more selective about after-work activities, work travel and evening social functions. I do a lot of meal prep (especially for the baby) on weekends.
I am also a Christian and my faith is important to me, to keep me centred on something other than myself as I juggle the craziness of motherhood, work life and everything else that comes up in between!
Favourite time of the day is…early morning when the entire house is still silent and I can have a cup of coffee in peace!
I’m happiest when…I’ve successfully cooked a meal that my family loves.
I’m addicted to…coffee!
Favourite wardrobe staple for work…waterfall jacket.
Favourite wardrobe staple for weekend…jeans.
My role model is…my own mum. Growing up, I never fully appreciated how amazing a full-time working mother is, but she’s always made it look easy and has always put us first.
Heels or flats? Heels for work, flats for everything else!